DeVos, Lightfoot on same page in blaming teachers and clinicians for agencies’ ongoing and chronic failure to adequately support special needs students. See links to press conference here and lawsuit here.

CHICAGO, May 20, 2020—The CTU blasted Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s CPS executives and U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos today for trying to foist responsibility for their failure to support special needs students on rank and file educators and clinicians. The CTU filed a lawsuit this week against Lightfoot’s hand-picked board of education and DeVos for promulgating conflicting and irresponsible mandates to frontline educators and support staff that undermine educational services and supports to roughly 70,000 CPS students with special needs.

“The mayor runs our schools—and she and DeVos have forced us to this point, with deficient policy during the pandemic—and a clear indifference to the needs of our special education students.” said CTU President Jesse Sharkey. “Our goal is to get special needs students the supports they need—while federal and local policy is making that impossible, especially as we continue to weather chronic shortages of special ed teachers, clinicians and support staff. At the same time, the mayor’s CPS executives are parrotting DeVos’ hostility to frontline public school educators and talking out of both sides of their mouths, by forcing our members to shoulder onerous and duplicative paperwork that robs students and families of time and supports, while claiming to reporters that they’re NOT requiring these mandates of frontline workers.”

Sharkey noted that ISBE—the Illinois Board of Education—has told school districts they must bargain with their unions to come to mutual agreement on the terms of remote learning, including for special ed students. Yet the mayor has ignored ISBE and instead deployed unworkable policy that robs students of instruction time and supports as workers scramble to fulfill CPS’ impossible paperwork requirements. “Once again, the mayor has done this without consulting our special education rank and file experts on the ground, who know better than CPS what our students need and deserve.”

Sharkey also noted that CPS has been shortchanging special needs students for years, in direct violation of federal law—ultimately compelling ISBE to install a state monitor in the wake of widely documented special education deficiencies. “This isn’t NEW behavior by the mayor,” said Sharkey. “Instead, it’s more of the same management derelection of duty to our most vulnerable students. Educators would rather be in a position to instruct and provide supports to parents. Instead, Mayor Lightfoot is seeking to turn educators into law clerks and paper shufflers for CPS’ legal department.

“Our lawsuit is about providing instruction,” Sharkey. “The special ed directives from the mayor’s CPS officials are about limiting their liability to lawsuits for violating our special needs students’ federal rights. While it seems like an odd coupling, it’s both troubling and unsurprising to see the mayor that runs our school district and Trump’s right-wing education secretary Betsy DeVos essentially on the same team.

The Union charges Devos with failing children across the country when the U.S. Department of Education failed to offer states guidance on how to adjust federal special ed guidance to provide vulnerable special needs students with the best chance to maximize learning. In Illinois, the State has looked to school districts to create plans that reflect best practices. Yet instead of working with educators, the mayor’s CPS team has deferred to their lawyers to limit liability—even as they are operating under a state monitor for illegally dismantling special education services.

“Case managers are the glue that holds special education services together within CPS, and our focus is on what children and families need right now: connection, flexibility, support, and expertise in specialized services, NOT burdensome bureaucracy or excessive paperwork demands from CPS,” said special education teacher and case manager Carolyn Barnes. “Too often, special education teachers, clinicians and case managers like me are forced to choose between providing direct service to students in co-taught or instructional classrooms or to provide services to students and families through case management.”

Social worker Carolina Juarez-Hill echoed those concerns. “We’re working our tails off to get services and supports to our students and families,” she said. “That means meeting with family members well into the night and on weekends, trying to broker broadband access with Comcast for families, trying to connect families who are out of work and struggling to keep a roof over their heads with food and housing, at the same time that we’re trying to educate and support our students. Frankly, it’s hurtful that CPS and Secretary DeVos are suggesting that we’re not doing our jobs, when we continue to go above and beyond to support our students. And we’re trying to do that at the same time that we’re confronting desperate shortages of special ed teachers, school nurses, and other clinicians and support staff who are integral to providing students with robust educational and social/emotional supports.”

CTU Financial Secretary and speech therapist Maria Moreno called CPS’ insinuation that educators are simply looking to cut down on workloads ‘insulting’. “Our rank and file are working their tails off to support special needs students, and frankly, I’m outraged that the mayor’s school bosses would suggest that it’s our membersrather than their incompetence and indifference to special needs students—that is driving this crisis. Both Devos and the mayor have seen our lawsuit, and their answer is ‘get to work’. We’re already working our hearts out, and now struggling with CPS’ gratuitous bureaucratic requirements that interfere with our students’ right to education. Our case managers, teachers and clinicians are tired of spinning their wheels with these unnecessary bureaucratic hurdles instead of providing education and services to children in need during a global pandemic. The mayor’s’ indifference to the harm her CPS team has created is cynical, irresponsible and just plain wrong.”

The Chicago Teachers Union represents more than 25,000 teachers and educational support personnel working in Chicago Public Schools, and by extension, the nearly 400,000 students and families they serve. The CTU is an affiliate of the American Federation of Teachers and the Illinois Federation of Teachers and is the third-largest teachers local in the United States. For more information please visit the CTU website at www.ctulocal1.org.